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‘Tis the Season for Holiday Office Parties: How to Protect Your Business and Employees

As the year ends and the holiday season approaches, many businesses decide to host office parties. It’s a great way to celebrate their accomplishments and reward the team that made it all possible.

But while the holidays often bring out the best in people, it’s important to know that holiday office parties carry a number of risks—to your business and your employees. Read on for important considerations before your next event, so you can ensure a safe and happy holiday for everyone.

Alcohol

When people think of a successful party, alcohol is often a key ingredient that comes to mind. Of course, serving alcohol always carries risk. Hosting a party where alcohol is distributed can leave you liable for damages or harm caused from overserving someone or serving a minor. Here are a few ways to mitigate the risk without being a buzzkill.

  1. Host the party off-site: Rather than host the party at the office, move it to another location like a hotel, restaurant, or bar. This way, you can avoid much of the liability that comes from serving alcohol. The venue may still require you to provide some insurance, so it’s a good idea to discuss special event coverage with your agent or broker.
  2. Manage the amount of alcohol served: There are several ways to accomplish this. You can use drink tickets to limit the number of free drinks a guest can receive, and hire professional bartenders trained in identifying intoxicated individuals. Offering nonalcoholic options and closing the bar at least an hour before the end of the party are also great steps to take. Even something as simple as having the party earlier in the afternoon as opposed to the evening can have a profound effect on how much your guests will indulge.
  3. Get everyone home safe: Even if you take every precaution to ensure people aren’t overserved (and minors aren’t served at all), you’ll still want to make sure everyone has a safe way home. Consider arranging transportation ahead of time whether it be designated drivers, public transportation, or a company like Uber or Lyft.

Food Safety

No party is complete without some great food. Whether your team is providing food pot-luck style, you hire caterers for the event, or you rely on the services of a hotel or bar, there are plenty of options to keep employees happy and full. However, nothing leaves a sour taste in your mouth quite like food poisoning. This can not only cause harm to your team’s health, it can result in a lawsuit. Follow these CDC best practices for food safety to limit your risk.

  1. Cleanliness: Make sure servers and cooks regularly wash their hands as well as any utensils and countertops they use. It’s also incredibly important to separate raw meats from foods that won’t be cooked to avoid cross-contamination.
  2. Safe serving: Keep your hot foods hot (140° or warmer) and cold foods cold (40° or cooler). This can be done by using tools like slow cookers, warming trays, and ice bowls.
  3. Two-hour rule: Germs grow quickly on lukewarm foods. It’s recommended that food kept at room temperature be thrown out after two hours. If it’s been sitting in an environment that’s 90° or hotter—like at an outdoor party—be sure to toss it after one hour.
  4. Choose carefully: If you’re hiring caterers or utilizing the food services of a hotel or bar, ensure the company or establishment has a clean reputation and adheres strictly to food safety guidelines. Researching online customer reviews can be a great way to ensure you’re making a wise choice when it comes to food selection for your event.

Harassment

With the feel-good atmosphere of the holidays, it’s easy to forget that an office party—especially one involving alcohol—could result in a sexual harassment claim. Just because an office party is held off-site and outside normal work hours, doesn’t remove you from the risk of a claim. Here are some steps you can take to avoid harassment taking place at your office party.

  1. Make sure your employees are informed: First, ensure your employees understand that, although it’s a party, it’s still a work event, and they should conduct themselves accordingly. When you do so, be sure to remind them of the company’s harassment policy.

  2. Have employees report any harassment immediately: Whether an employee experiences any harassment or witnesses it, it’s important that they’re encouraged and feel safe reporting it immediately. This speaks to a larger workplace culture around employee safety and harassment. If you feel your workplace culture isn’t where it needs to be, act immediately to start putting the necessary policies and procedures in place.
  3. Get the managers involved: Be sure that those in leadership positions know they’re expected to set a good example. Remind them that, while they should have a good time, they’re also expected to make sure their team is safe at the work-related event.

These are just a few of the potential risks that come with hosting a holiday office party. Every workplace environment and culture is a little different. Take these as a starting point and understand that there’s always the potential for a claim. When in doubt, contact your insurance agent or broker to have them help you walk through your potential risk before you finalize the details of your next event.

To ensure you’re adequately protected, and to learn more about VGM Insurance and our comprehensive coverage options, contact your Account Manager or reach out to us today at 800-362-3363 or via email at info@vgminsurance.com.

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